What HR Doesn’t Know About Their Caregiving Employees

A caregiver is someone who provides assistance to another person who needs help. Yet, many of your employees are caregivers without realizing it. If they know more about Mom’s prescriptions than their own, they are a caregiver. If they are helping their sister with her kids because her husband is in trouble with the law again, they’re a caregiver. If they are mowing an elderly neighbor’s lawn, they’re a caregiver. If they are raising a family, they are caregivers. All these roles have one thing in common: the need for information on how to support loved ones. There is a tremendous amount of information out there – and sometimes, it is overwhelming. What sources can be trusted? What programs and services are available to help employees with caregiving? What can companies do to help their employees who are navigating a caregiving journey?

There are 40 million adults who are providing mostly unpaid caregiving in the United States. One in six are also employees. Males are now 40% of our caregivers and 25% are millennials. A study by AARP and the National Alliance for Caregiving reported that 56% of caregivers work full time. 50% reported they had no choice in accepting this caregiving role, and unfortunately, the caregiver’s health suffered as a result. And 50% of those surveyed who had jobs reported that their supervisor was unaware of their caregiving situation. Caregiving stress results in absenteeism, presenteeism, lost productivity, increased healthcare costs, and turnover costs. All these factors cost employers $38 billion each year.

Since statistically we know that employees are reluctant to talk about their caregiving situation, what can a company do to encourage the employees to be more forthcoming and to understand help is available? In smaller companies, you may know the employees and hear directly from them or from a co-worker. In larger companies there is aggregate data available to help management with demographic information. Sure, leave policies and the EAP are covered in orientation but yearly reminders should be given. Research has shown that when asked about the Employee Assistance Program, most employees are only vaguely aware of its benefits, and they usually are not aware that counseling for family stressors such as caregiving is included. Typically, only 7% of employees use the digital platforms available through the benefit plan. Consider bringing in a tech specialist from your benefits manager to show staff how to use the online benefits and education. “Don’t tell me what, tell me how”. Offer caregiver education in the workplace through lunch and learns. Elder caregiving is particularly stressful because there is no such thing as parenting a parent. Decades of family dynamics can make communicating difficult. Classes on building resilience and boundary-setting can have positive effects for the caregivers. Often, a “change angel” within the company is willing to share his or her own caregiving journey. Even something as simple as recognizing November is Family Caregiver Month in company newsletters and the intranet can begin conversations. As former First Lady Rosalyn Carter said, “There are only four kinds of people in the world – those who have been caregivers, those who are currently caregivers, those who will be caregivers, and whose who will need caregivers.”